Sunday, December 22, 2019

K.A.C. 2019 - T - 3 ...

     Good morning! Three days to go and in case you think we're providing you with nothing but our own odd brand of Christmas Cheer while you lounge about listening to your Philco, think again ... speaking of which, just how large WAS that monstrosity? Maybe it's just the perspective of the picture, but this beast looks MASSIVE compared to the wistful lass gazing abstractedly at it. Plus I can't help thinking just how much more of a conversation piece it would be if you removed that crystal bowl off the top and added in some gold-plated angels facing in an opposite direction and wait for your guests to ask ... "Oh, this little thing? Yes, it's the Philco 'Ark Of the Covenant' model - limited edition, you know, but the pickup range is HEAVENLY!" 

     Yeah, I know ... my mind works in mysterious ways. Anyway, back to today's Christmas For Your Ears story. Our tale today is as far away from Christmas Cheer as you'll ever hope to hear or see. First a bit of history:

     All your police procedural shows on TV now, your NCIS's, your CSI's, your Law and Order's, etc., owe their existence to the very first show: DRAGNET. Created, written, produced and starring Jack Webb, the show dramatized case files from the Los Angeles Police Department. DRAGNET (the radio series) ran from 1949 - 1957. It was, as Wikipedia puts it: 

      " ... an American radio series, enacting the cases of a dedicated Los Angeles police detective, Sergeant Joe Friday, and his partners. The show took its name from the police term "dragnet", meaning a system of coordinated measures for apprehending criminals or suspects.

     Dragnet is perhaps the most famous and influential police procedural drama in media history. The series gave audience members a feel for the boredom and drudgery, as well as the danger and heroism, of police work. Dragnet earned praise for improving the public opinion of police officers. Actor and producer Jack Webb's aims in Dragnet were for realism and unpretentious acting. He achieved both goals, and Dragnet remains a key influence on subsequent police dramas in many media."

     The most famous episode of the radio series was called ".22 Rifle for Christmas." Again, Wikipedia tells us:

     "Though tame by modern standards, Dragnet—especially on the radio—handled controversial subjects such as sex crimes and drug addiction with unprecedented and even startling realism. In one such example, Dragnet broke an unspoken (and rarely broached) taboos of popular entertainment in the episode ".22 Rifle for Christmas" which aired December 22, 1949 and repeated at Christmastime for the next three years ... NBC received thousands of complaint letters, including a protest by the National Rifle Association. Webb forwarded many of the letters to police chief Parker who promised "ten more shows illustrating the folly of giving rifles to children".

     I've deliberately not included the plot in the above quote, but it's one of the most tense and devastating half hours of radio drama you'll ever hear - give it a listen here: 

      The episode was so memorable that when Jack Webb produced and starred in the first of his many DRAGNET television series, he recreated it, again to massive acclaim and complaints, but it equally got the point across. You can watch the entire episode at the link below: 


     After the repeated Christmas airings of this cautionary tale, DRAGNET replaced it with a much more light-hearted story that also was repeated during the holidays. Again, Wikipedia relates:

     ".22 Rifle for Christmas" was replaced as the series' Christmas story on December 22, 1953 with "The Big Little Jesus", which followed the detectives' investigation of the theft of a statue of the baby Jesus from a church Nativity scene. With its happier ending than ".22 Rifle", this episode was repeated at Christmastime the following year. The late-1960s TV version of Dragnet included a newly produced version of "The Big Little Jesus", which featured Barry Williams (later of The Brady Bunch) as one of the altar boys."

     When I was a little boy, I had an uncle who loved the show and watched it all the time. I used to watch it with him - thankfully, I never saw the '.22 Rifle' episode, but I well remember the early television version of this episode. It's one of Jack Webb's best written episodes and has some of the dry humor that was later added in, to show the more human side of the policemen. First up is the radio version of the story, which aired on December 22nd, 1953. 

     The radio link below mentions this about the show: "The television version of The Big Little Jesus aired just two days after the radio broadcast, and was a milestone in television history.  Although the only surviving copies of this episode are in black and white, this program was the first major network show to be broadcast in colour; even on the surviving monochrome copies, 'Pathe-Color' can be seen in the credits."

     You can find more facts about the episode and the history of it below at this link:


     Once you've finished with the radio version, you can watch the full TV episode here: 


           Last but not least, like most iconic shows, DRAGNET received its parodies and spoofs over the years. One of the best and most fondly remembered was this Merrie Melodies cartoon with Daffy Duck and Porky Pig called 'Rocket Squad' - THIS will renew your Christmas Cheer ... you're welcome!


          Only two more to go!

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